7 July 2023

My first airport!!

And I did not even get to fly from here!!

Chennai was the first airport I got to visit. This was way back in 1988. Predictably, it looked nothing like the swanky look today of. Nonetheless, I remember it as a very imposing structure and I was mesmerised by the fact that the whole building was air conditioned. Funny thing is that I was not going to fly. In fact, I would not be taking the first flight of my life for another 3 years when I turned 25. I was there due to a mishap and one stranger’s incredible kindness.

Let me spool this back.

One afternoon around lunch time in college, I received a telegram. That simply said that my friend Pratyush’s dad had passed away and I was to send him home post haste. Pratyush is my dear friend from Durgapur and he was studying in HIET college in Guindy not too far from my college. His brother – Debatosh – had sent the message to me.

A bit rattled, I dressed up, went to the bank, withdrew some money and took one of those green PTC buses to head towards him. All the time thinking thru how was I going to give him the bad news. And I could not get over the fact that Mr. Paul who had passed away was actually with Pratyush and me in Chennai barely 48 hours back!! We had seen him off the previous day on the 8AM Coromandel Express!! Apparently he had died from a massive cardiac arrest after reaching home in Durgapur.

Anyways, I located Pratyush in his class, interrupted the professor and explained to him the situation, and brought back Pratyush to his room. I was helping him pack his suitcase as he continued to fight his tears back in a state of shock. All this time, I was thinking thru which train might get him home fastest. I was targeting Howrah Mail that night.

After getting all his things in order, he and I set out to go to the train station. A couple of his friends joined us to help me. There we were – standing at the bus stop – waiting for a bus to take us to Guindy station (from where we would proceed to Madras Central station). I was running thru in my mind Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and all that. We were unlikely to get a reservation. Should I send him by RAC? Put him on Waiting List? Go by next morning’s Coromandel? May be I can show the telegram to the train guard and get him to help us? This was going to be a 33 hour train ride after all!!

I had stepped into the road, impatiently looking at the direction of the bus when a cruising car came by. There was a young gentleman driving it. He seemed to have taken the car out to go for a nice drive. He was not in a hurry. He was by himself.

I stepped back on the pavement to give the car the right of the way. The car, for whatever reason, stopped next to us. There were nobody else near us. I figured he needed some directions. Instead, he asked us where were we going. I told him about Pratyush’s plight and that we needed to get to Guindy station quickly. Going out on a limb, I asked if he would be so kind as to drop us at the station – which would have been a 6 minute drive, tops.

He said sure. We all jumped in. I sat next to him. He asked me about what was going on. I gave him a lot more details – that Pratyush actually had to get to Durgapur. First stop would be Kolkata and that before all that I had to get him a ticket.

“Maybe I can drop you folks at Central Station, if you want?”

“No, no, we can manage by train,” I quickly replied. I was struck by his kindness and empathy. Just to be sure, I also knew it was five of us – so we were not likely to get into any danger.


And he kept driving. Then he asked – “He has to reach as soon as possible, right?”

“Yes. I am not sure how long they will keep the body before cremating it.”

“Have you thought of flying him?”

“Well, no. I have no idea about airplanes. I do not even know how to buy a ticket. Let alone the price.”

“It will be about Rs 3000. You want to think about it?”

I looked around to the four others. Among the five of us, we did have that much cash.

“Let’s do it.”

There is one side story here. Pratyush and Debotosh always trusted my judgment and sense of responsibility. None of that was deserved, I am sure. But then, it was what it was. That is why it was I who had received the telegram and also why Pratyush had left me to make all the decisions.

With that firm decision, the gentleman turned around the car and sped towards the airport.

It was a very different feeling. I did not know what an airport looked like much less a flight ticket.

Presently, we pulled up to this big building and the gentleman parked the car right next to it. He took us to the ticketing counter and stepped back as I finished the transaction. I was impressed with a five page leaflet I got. There were three carbon copies of the ticket details in that booklet neatly bound together with two staples.

The gentleman offered to drop the rest of us back. We said we would hang around with Pratyush since he was not in a good mental state.

“That makes sense,” he said and went away. We waved at him as long as we could see the car.

Inside the airport – and in those days, it did not have all the strict security of today, I roamed around in complete amazement. Like I had mentioned, the air conditioning, the long glass walls, the smartly dressed people, the authoritative announcements, the no-nonsense CISF security – it was something that had me spellbound. But it was too expensive for me to try out in the near future.

As Sridhar dropped me at the airport today, I looked it up and down and took quite a few pictures musing to myself that this is exactly where I had seen my first airport and wished that someday I would be able to afford to fly!! Very out of the world feeling.

Incidentally, we never saw the gentleman again. Later, we had taken many a walk along the road hoping to spot a light blue Premier Padmini. Never did. That is a shame. We never got a chance to say Thank You properly to the stranger!

Posted July 7, 2023 by Rajib Roy in category "Vacations

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